Labour won’t tolerate freedom of conscience

9 December 2020

Tim Dieppe comments on the recent resignation of Labour’s shadow faith minister, Janet Daby.

Janet Daby resigned as Labour’s shadow faith minister last week over comments she had made in support of freedom of conscience.

The MP for Lewisham East had argued for a conscience clause to protect those who object to certain duties because of their religion. She said that registrars who have a conscientious objection to same-sex marriage should be protected from losing their jobs.

Daby describes herself as a Christian who attends church and is a member of Christians on the Left. She has been a Sunday school teacher and churchwarden.

Asked about the clash between people of faith and secular culture

The comments were made in an interview with Religion Media Centre on 7 December.

In the interview she was asked about, “the clash between people faith and secular culture, for example, where registrars have been sacked for refusing to hold same-sex wedding ceremonies. Is that the appropriate response, or should there be special arrangements for the believer in those circumstances?”

‘It is an issue of conscience’

Daby answered as follows:

“This is to do with a person’s own conscience around this. It’s similar, probably, to a vote of conscience in parliament.

“My own view around this would be that I’d like to have some more information on it, obviously, I’d like to have those conversations with people.

“There needs to be something in place that protects people of faith as well as those who think the other way. It is an issue of conscience. It is like people having a choice, who for reasons of conscience cannot participate in conducting an abortion.

“It’s almost similar, as well, to whether someone wishes to partake in the medical process of an abortion – I think nurses have a choice.

“This is highly complex and controversial. And what I think, is there needs to be something in place that respects people’s conscience and views of faith, as well as that protects people’s rights that want to ensure they can also be treated equally within their own rights as well.

“I think that needs to happen.”

Resigned later the same day

Later that same day, she resigned from her position as Shadow Faith Minister with a tweet saying:

“I’m proud to support same-sex marriages. On Saturday Labour celebrated 15 years of civil partnerships, and all the progress we’ve made since.

“I sincerely apologise for my misjudged comments on Friday, and have decided to resign as Shadow Faith Minister.”

Conscience provisions for abortion, but not same-sex unions

As Daby said, there are conscience objection provisions for health care workers who may have religious, moral or personal objections to abortion. There are not similar provisions for those who have conscientious objections to same-sex unions.

Back in 2008, Christian registrar Lilian Ladele objected to conducting same-sex civil unions because of her Christian faith. Appeal court judges ruled in effect that the rights of gay people rank higher than those of Christians in cases like this. It is currently illegal for a registrar to refuse to conduct a same-sex wedding. In 2014, a Christian registrar in Bedford was dismissed for refusing to conduct same-sex weddings, although later reinstated.

No freedom of conscience for Daby

That she resigned so quickly must mean that she was immediately put under pressure about her comments. It is very important to protect and create provisions for people’s consciences. It is extraordinary that she felt the need to resign merely for arguing that people should have the right to conscientiously object to same-sex marriage. There was no freedom of conscience for Daby on this matter. Even expressing the view that society should make allowance for conscientious objection was grounds for her to resign.

One might have thought that Labour would want to protect workers’ rights, rather than make it easier for employees to be sacked!

The intolerance of the Labour Party is clear for everyone to see.

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